Your baby is choking -- what should you do?

by Melissa Jaramillo

Choking BabyAbout the same time your baby's thumb and pointer finger coordinated picking up tiny pieces of lint, those arms and legs started working together to move the newest explorer across the universe.

Maybe he's only able to move a few feet across the living room floor but it has certainly offered an assortment of interesting tidbits. Your baby will probably examine each one by carefully picking it up and pocketing it, right in the mouth.

"Yesterday I had the biggest scared of my life. My baby was coughing. I didn't think anything of it until he got purple, and starting breathing heavily. I looked in his mouth, but didn't see anything. About a minute later he started to throw up. A little piece of a goldfish cracker came out. What are you supposed to do?" Jill asks.

Choking basics

Every time your baby puts something into his mouth, he's at risk to choke. An object -- like a button, penny or piece of food -- can block the flow of air from mouth to lungs.

When this happens, no oxygen transfers into the blood. Damage to the brain and other vital organs can occur within minutes.

More than half the victims of childhood choking are infants. If your baby is choking, knowing what to do may allow you to save your child's life.

When does your baby need your help?

If the obstruction is mild, your baby can cough, make sounds and might clear the object without help. You'll know that bit of food or hunk of stuff is gone if your baby spits it out or starts to cough or cry.

If the obstruction is severe, you will need to help your baby clear it away with back blows and chest compressions.

Choking -- what to do

Did your baby cough and a bite of food or a round object popped out? Whew! If it does not, what should you do?

Dr. Luke Herman, author of "Baby MedBasics," explains three steps to take when your baby chokes.

1. Give 5 back blows. Place your baby face down on your thigh* for support. Support the face, but do not cover the mouth or nose. Keep baby's head lower than the body.

Using the palm of your free hand, hit your baby forcefully between the shoulder blades five times. Stop after each slap to check if the blockage has cleared. Did the object come out? If not, continue.

Call 911 or your country's emergency response number after providing care for two minutes.

2. Give 5 chest compressions. Turn your baby face up. Support the head in your hand, keeping it lower than the body. Place the index and middle finger of your free hand mid-chest, slightly below your baby's nipples. Compress the chest 1/3 to 1/2 the depth of the chest. Give one compression per second to help expel the object.

Repeat step one and two until the object comes out or until medical help arrives.

3. If your baby becomes unresponsive, give 30 chest compressions. Open your baby's mouth and look. If you can see the object, use your finger to remove it. If you can't see it, don't attempt to remove it because you could push it deeper into your baby's airway.

If your baby remains unresponsive, begin CPR immediately.

Keep trying. If food causes the choking, it may start to dissolve and dislodge. No matter what object is choking your baby, becoming unresponsive allows your baby's airway to relax slightly. The object may be easier to clear.

Don't give up. Medical help is on the way. Have you had a choking scare with your baby?

*In 2014, ST JOHN Ambulance and the British Red Cross now recommend supporting your infant across your thigh versus forearm as previously advised. Experts shared this technique offers much more support and enables the caregiver to better focus on dislodging the obstruction.

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.